The Sudanese regime has taken a number of different turns over its 24 years in power, gone back on many of its political slogans, and frequently changed its attitudes in an attempt to cling to power. After coining the slogan, “We eat what we plant and wear what we manufacture,” the regime ruined the country’s agricultural projects and sold off large swathes of state-owned lands in controversial deals, raising concerns among the Sudanese that one day their country would become a wasteland. In an attempt to ridicule this slogan, the Sudanese people added: “We laugh at what we hear,” particularly following an unprecedented rise in living expenses, forcing the majority of the population to cut down on the number of their daily meals.
After the “Salvation” regime adopted the slogans of jihad to “crush the insurgency” in the South, pledging not to abandon a single inch of national territory, Sudan became fragmented, with wars raging in the North and extending from the borders of Darfur to South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. Despite its vows not to negotiate or compromise the unity of Sudan, the regime eventually signed the secession agreement, with the president joining the ceremonies at the announcement of the independence of South Sudan in Juba. Moreover, regime officials claimed that “lifting the burden of the South,” would promote the welfare of the North.
In light of this record of failures and setbacks, many attitudes and slogans have changed and many confusing and contradictory statements have been issued, with the government pursuing no certain policy except that of clinging to power. The latest of these confusing statements was President Omar Al-Bashir’s announcement last week that he is confident that the day will come when the two parts of Sudan reunite or form a sort of union. What makes this statement confusing is the fact that it comes from the president who not only oversaw the secession process, but who also played a major role in creating the climate for this to take place. Had the regime been concerned about the unity of Sudan, why did it not make use of the six years following the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that led to the South’s self-determination referendum in 2011? During these six years, many political programs could have been implemented to attract people towards unity instead of the quarrels and the aggressive statements that led to the Southerners vote “yes” on secession.
In reality, the regime wasted these years, arousing animosity towards the South to the extent that some officials and ideologues failed to conceal their desire to see the it secede. They thought that secession would help them implement their “Islamic movement” project and establishing a so-called second republic. The Islamic movement, which was responsible for the “Salvation” coup, sought to impose its ideology on the country, turning Sudan into the first Muslim Brotherhood republic in the Arab world.
With the belief that the South was an obstacle in the way of the establishment of an Islamic republic, the regime sought to lift this burden from its shoulders even if this meant “losing” a fifth of the country, a quarter of its population, and over three quarters of its oil revenues. The regime believed that even after the secession of the South, it would succeed in obtaining a considerable amount of the Southern oil by imposing heavy transit fees. As the emerging country in the South is landlocked, it can only export its oil via the Northern pipelines. Besides this, trade in South Sudan is also dependent on the North.
Therefore, the regime’s ideologues were convinced that they would be able to use their economic sway in settling some of the pending issues, from border demarcation and the fate of Abyei to the division of water revenues and the issues of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. However, things did not go as Khartoum expected, and the relations between the South and the North deteriorated, leading to actual military confrontation. This, in turn, led to the suspension of oil exports, leaving the economies of both countries on the verge of collapse.
Given the awkward position it finds itself in at home, particularly after the Arab Spring, the “Salvation” regime has returned to the strategy of contradicting itself. For example, the regime has decided to hold negotiations with South Sudan once more, accepting less oil transit fees than it had previously demanded. In addition, it has offered compromises over the security arrangements, replacing its former discourse of using strength “to discipline the south” to dealing with Juba based on a new reconciliatory tone. We have seen Bashir, on returning from visiting the South, claim that his regime is seeking to restore national solidarity with South Sudan and that he is confident that one day the two parts of Sudan will reunite. These are surprises from the Khartoum leadership—or, perhaps, they are nothing more than maneuvers to remain in power.